So, Mr. B. was the mentor whom I would seek out for my first practice lesson as a teacher in training.
I remembered the classroom at Madrona Middle School being a lot bigger when I was a middle school student. Strangely, though, Mr. B's room seemed quite small. I could not believe that I was able to navigate that room with a whole class of students and an active teacher, to boot. Mr B. did it then, and he was doing it still that year.
He had the same history dolls, or "action figures" as he preferred to call them. One of them was Davy Crockett, I think. Then there was George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, too.
The room had the same quotes from history, as well, including the the Indian chief Tecumseh, who scoffed at the notion of man selling a country. "Why not sell the air or the sea?" he proffered.
Still, the innovation and independence which Mr. B. had commanded in years past had all but disappeared, now that standardized testing was taking on such a larger role in public education.
For the next two weeks, I observed his class and also a colleague of his, another former teacher of mine. Mr Z. was a gruff man then, but he had really gotten tough and red in the face since I was in his class. Technically, I was not a student, per se, but a P.E. tutor. Madrona had instituted a great program in years past, where eighth graders would coach, or tutor, small groups of sixth graders at the end of the school day. It was my first teaching experience, one that had its ups and downs. Some of the sixth graders had been very cooperative -- some of them were downright rude, but at least I did not have to run a mile every week, like the other eighth graders.
It was a happier time for me, and I thought that I would have chance to relive those moments. Sadly, Mr. Z. did not remember me, at first. I had to remind him, but barely still did he recall me. Briefly, he explained to his current crop of seventh graders that I was about as tall as they were right then and there, then he went back to his lecture using the same dried-out transparencies from years past.
He had soured considerably over the year . A puffy harsh man, Mr. Z. was barking orders at all the students. He would hold students after class for one minute if they did not have their books out nice and ready and quickly, to boot. He was not the amiable man that I had remembered. When students gathered toward the front of the room to look over some notes on the overhead projector, he would yell at students who did not sit down, write, then get back up in a hurry. He snapped at one kid who seemed to me be taking his time sitting down, when in fact he was just looking for enough space to squeeze in and read the notes on the overhead (they were hard to read, even for me!)
"OK, you! Get up and go back to your seat, right now!" He barked at one student, a quiet Asian boy.
"But Mr. Z, I just got here, and I can't see the front. . "
"I don't care! Get up and move!" the little boy returned to his seat, put his head down. The slight bobbing of his suggested clearly that he was sobbing.
Mr. Z. kept rushing the young children to take notes and take off as fast they could, but their fastest was still not good enough for him. He was a dry and inviting man that day, and I really felt bad for those seventh graders, many of whom looked so small to me, more like third graders than middle school students.
The bell rang-- finally -- and the students filed out as quickly as they could. The little Asian boy was still sobbing. Briefly, Mr. Z approached the lad, who explained in the midst of silent sobs that his uncle had just passed away. Embarrassed and flustered at once, his reddish face turning a darker hue of justified shame, he hugged the young boy and apologized for yelling at him.
The whole experience confused me somewhat. Why had Mr. Z. become such a curmudgeon? He practically bludgeoned these kids with his hustle and bustle. This was the same teacher who had stood up for me when one of the sixth graders I was responsible for had thrown something at me. He had been blasting fire from his mouth and sides, exasperated that a sixth grader would hurt one of his eighth grade P.E. tutors -- me, and Mr. Z. had held me in high esteem.
But that was years ago, so long ago, and so much had changed in the meantime, and not for the better. He even yelled at me once, shouting that he did not have time for me as the next day he rushed his students through making the African masks which were a staple of his class every year. He even tossed a bunch of papers at me to get laminated, treating me as mere help. The whole affair was just sad altogether, a potentially welcome reunion that left a bitter aftertaste for me.